Friday, March 22, 2019

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky Book Review

Book Review
We told T to give a "moon smile." The
telescope is to his right, and the moon
is visible over his shoulder.

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky
Written by Stuart Atkinson
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Published October 8, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To learn more about astronomy and know what to look for with a telescope (which we've wanted to borrow from WPL for a while.) Laurence King provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review
Part informational, part inspirational, and all sensational! A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky is fun and informative for kids and adults.

A cute cat narrating how to stargaze and what to look for immediately sparks the imagination. This cat, inspired by real French cats who went to space, introduces topics that range from what to wear to the history of reading the sky to constellations by season to phases of the moon, with everything an amateur stargazer like myself might imagine, with the Northern Lights and satellites thrown in as well (I wouldn't have thought to look for satellites and I am too far south for the Northern Lights). Each two-page spread is devoted to a different topic, with a basic answer on one page, and more detailed information on the facing page. Fun and informative illustrations accompany all text. The more generalized answer is great for younger kids, and then readers can determine how much more detail they'd like to read. T was less interested in why stars are different colors than he was in comparing the sizes of different colored stars. I, however, was interested in learning about the different types of stars.

I know very little about the night sky, but I love seeing stars and the Milky Way. As a kid, Venus would rise over my best friend's house; her dad pointing it out to us was always incredibly exciting! Since then, and a 6th-grade trip to Catalina Island where we learned the constellations at night, I've been interested in astronomy but have never pursued knowledge. Now, with a little kiddo whose enthusiasm about the world is boundless, we can learn together. Worcester Public Library has a program where you can check out a telescope, which I think is just about the coolest thing. We did that in conjunction with reading this book. You certainly don't need a telescope to look at stars, read this book, or follow the phases of the moon, but it was thrilling for us. We were especially excited to read about "rays" on the moon, because we saw them!

Why I like A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky soooo much is threefold: it covers basic astronomy in a way that is appropriate to a range of ages, it is written with an engaging and entertaining tone, and, because it is so easy to actually put the information to use, it inspires us to look at the night sky. Oh, and we've checked out more night sky books from the library! We need more info on meteors.

This book has sparked stargazing, further reading, telescope use, and what I can only describe as "quality time" with my son and husband. It's an enjoyable read in its own right, but after reading it (or sections of it), it's hard to just stick it on a shelf.

Son's Review
T's favorite planet is the blue one.
(Age: 4)

Mom: What's the best thing about A Cat's Guide?

Son: To the Night Sky!

Mom: Okay. The whole title. What's the best thing? Why?

Son, pointing to winter sky page: This part! The best thing is "extra." Because I like it. I like that it's about snow and winter and I like winter and snow.
(The season pages have "sky extras," such as meteor showers, that you'll see in addition to the constellations during that particular season.)

Mom: What do you want to learn more about? Do you have a specific question?

Son: The sun. Yes. Why do people get burned?

Mom: Because it's soooo hot. Wasn't it so cool to see the moon up close? What did you like about that?
(The heat of the sun is covered in one of the more detailed sections, which is still a bit above T's level right now.)

Son: YEEEES!!! I liked that it was the moon...[I liked] the lines. I liked the moon because it looked kinda like the sun but it just isn't as hot.
(We saw the rays of debris from an impact)

Mom: Is there anything you'd like to look for next time we have the telescope?

Son: That thing is space! It is the sun.

Mom: Oh, we never look at the sun through a telescope. That could make you blind. Is there something else you'd want to look for?

Son: Boulders hitting the Earth! Asteroids!

Mom: What did you think of the cat who told us about the sky?

Son, with a huge grin: Silly!

Mom: When is it a good time to read this book?

Son: When I'm interested in space.

Mom: Who should read it?

Son: Anyone who likes space. D- He likes space.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Falcon's Feather Book Review

Book Review

The Falcon's Feather (Explorer Academy #2)
By Trudi Trueit
Published March 19, 2019

Why I chose this book:
After The Nebula Secret, I am excited to review this follow up from National Geographic. A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

The Falcon's Feather picks up right where its predecessor left off: Cruz and his fellow students are aboard the Orion for their semester at sea with the Explorer Academy. In addition to the curriculum, Cruz, Emmett, and Sailor are trying to decipher a clue left by Cruz's mom. Each clue will lead to a puzzle piece and the next clue. Once Cruz has found all puzzle pieces, he will have the formula for a powerful drug that can cure some of the worst diseases and injuries. Nebula Pharmaceuticals does not want this formula found, of course. In fact, it is they who caused the death of Cruz's mother and they who are behind the attacks on Cruz himself; this Big Pharma company will stop at nothing to stay obscenely profitable. One of the exciting developments in The Falcon's Feather is that we are given a firsthand glimpse of the villain's plans, and we find out that a student is working for them! The suspense was killing me as I read! Fear not, you can read on with no spoilers.

The groundwork for the series was laid in the first book, and now we get to accompany the youth explorers on their first mission. Cruz's class is asked to help rescue a pod of right whales, several of which have become entangled in fishing nets. The technology is again amazing, with a translator that interprets whale-song and allows Cruz to send a message of assurance and aid to the whales while his teammates cut the nets away. As before, back matter informs the reader about the real-life inspiration for events and gizmos (bycatch is a significant threat to whales, but there are smart buoys that monitor whale presence in shipping corridors). It comes as no surprise that a book put forth by National Geographic would highlight endangered animals, man's impact on them, and man's responsibility. The second adventure for Cruz and his friends features melting glaciers and environmental change. These issues are the backdrop for the adrenaline rush that is Cruz's search for the puzzle piece, which takes him all the way to Iceland!

The diverse preteens are coming into their own as young people do over the course of a school year, developing friendships and crushes, making mistakes, and supporting one another. (But throughout, one can't help but wonder who the traitor is.) And as Trueit introduces animals and locations, she paints such vivid images that you can easily imagine yourself alongside Cruz. Again, the storytelling, the story, and the background message make for a thrilling and timely novel. Definitely a series to follow!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me Book Review

Book Review
There's a blue blanket under T, a pillow and toys
behind the book, and a drink - just like Benji has.
He set this all up and asked me to take the photo.

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me
Written by Sally J. Pla
Illustrated by Ken Min
Published October 9, 2018

Why we chose this book: 
To see how the characters handle bad days (confronting tough feelings is a theme always on my radar). And I think representation of different needs is invaluable. Lee and Low Books provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review:
When Sammy comes home cold, wet, and hungry after a bad day at school, he compares his bad days with his little brother Benji's. Sammy believes that no one cares about his bad like they do for Benji, who receives particular consideration on his bad days. Readers will observe that although Sammy contrasts their situations, there is little animosity; in the end it is Benji who comforts Sammy. The final page shows both boys together, Sammy saying, "Side by side is where we are, and how we'll always be!"

Although we are not told that Benji is a boy with autism, adults and some older children may recognize characteristics and resources associated with autism: Benji visits a down-town clinic each week where the Super-Happy Lady encourages him to play a game or throw a ball, but Benji never does; Benji speaks very little; Benji needs a small, quiet, enclosed space to regain his calm; Benji is soothed by a blanket wrapped tightly around him. Back matter also outlines some autistic tendencies, noting the author's son's experience as inspiration for this book.

Clearly a book featuring neurodiversity and a bit of sibling disgruntlement, Benji, the Bad Day, and Me depicts an understanding and appreciation for differences by both brothers. Each has his own bad days and his own needs; both boys' needs are portrayed as equally valid - neither is right or wrong. Children with younger siblings may feel validated by the portrayal of Sammy's complex feelings about Benji. And children with siblings whose needs differ noticeably from their own can especially identify with Sammy, recognizing their own love and challenges in his.

T has been having me read Benji, the Bad Day, and Me back to back. We've talked about how the boys feel, how they treat each other, and how we handle bad days. T really likes that Benji has a box to play in. He doesn't pick up on the autism-spectrum behaviors Benji exhibits, and I don't point them out. It's all just part of the story and part of who Benji and Sammy are. And that's kind of the point, isn't it?

Son's Review:
(Age: 4)

Mom: What is the most important thing to know? What do you really like about it?

Son: It's a good one because I really like it. Because it is a story with a box and I like that kind of story.

Mom: Both boys had bad days. Do you sometimes feel that way? What makes you feel better?

Son: Uh-huh. Being loved makes me feel better.

Mom: Would you want to be friends with Sammy? What would you want to do with him?

Son: I would say, "Sometimes I have bad days and what I like to do to help myself is do fun things." Well if it were a long time, I would want to have a movie night with popcorn and go to Mohegan Sun and use the telescope. And try to comfort Sammy.

Mom: What about Benji, who has the box and the blanket?

Son: I would also help him. I would take both brothers to Mohegan Sun and in my backyard to do the telescope and watch a movie with popcorn, which I would do with the brothers as the first thing. And then I would have dinner and then I would have dessert and then I would telescope and then I would do Mohegan Sun.

Mom: Benji is in preschool just like you. Does he do anything you also like to do?

Son: Of course! Be in boxes.

Mom: How did it make you feel when Benji came out of his box? And when he rolled up Sammy?

Son: Curious. Then I knew that. That's what Daddy does with my towel.

Mom: How do you think Sammy and Benji felt? ... How do you think they felt at the end?

Son: Mad and sad and bad. ... Happy because their mother maded them a drink.

Mom: How did the ending make you feel?

Son: Happy because they got what they liked.

Mom: What was your favorite part of the book?

Son: The part in the middle. The part with the box.

Mom: When is it a good time to read this book?

Son: When I'm feeling sad and bad and mad.

Mom: Who else might like this book? People who...

Son: Like to solve problems and have box houses.

My staging...yeah, T's is way better.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Plan for Pops Book Review

Book Review
A Plan for Pops
Written by Heather Smith
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Published February 19, 2019

Why we chose this book:
We enjoyed Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith, I keep my eyes for any wheelchair-related picture books, and I'm keen on books that feature creative problem solving. Orca Book Publishers provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review:
A little boy, Lou, spends every weekend with his grandfathers. They have an enviable routine that starts with breakfast, moves to the library, continues on to lunch, and proceeds to snuggles and stories, and finally ends with constructing and inventing. One Saturday, however, Lou's Pops falls on the stairs out of the house. That evening, they get the news that Pops will need to use a wheelchair from now on. This is stated simply, with no negative undertones. Pops, however, slides into a depression and is not seen by Lou for weeks. Lou and Granddad are heartbroken at Pops's refusal to leave his room until the day Lou decides to get Pops back into the old swing of things. And this is what I so love about A Plan for Pops: the problem-solving.

Lou sketches out his plan, asks his Granddad for help, and engages the neighbors in his epic construction. He combines skills learned from each of his grandfathers (construction and engineering from Granddad and arts from Pops), to set up a mechanism that will turn on the stereo to Pops's favorite song. When the song ends, Lou arrives with a glass of juice topped with a paper umbrella (a Pops special). Lou has obviously considered what Pops enjoys, what will elicit happiness and remind Pops of his special bond with his grandson (you can see a family portrait by Lou framed over Pops's bed). Pops does indeed feel encouraged enough to make a try for the library, and what awaits him out his front door is nothing short of life-changing. Lou, Granddad, and the neighbors have built a ramp for Pops; now he can enter and exit his home. The joy as Lou pushes Pops to the library is palpable, and all three resume their previous routine with no hindrance from Pops new ride.

The three main takeaways from A Plan for Pops:
1. kids have the power to creatively solve problems
2. a wheelchair isn't bad, it just is
3. engineering and art complement one another

Uplifting and empowering, A Plan for Pops is a great read with inspiring messaging and lovely illustrations.

Son's Review:
(Age: 4)

Mom: What did you like best about this book?

Son: I - what I liked about this book was that they built contraptions.

Mom: I liked how the boy solved the problem. He made a plan and asked for help and did it.

Son: That was also my favorite part.

Mom: Do you like to make plans?

Son: Yes. And the plan I just made right now is, "Read a book!"

Mom: Why do you think the ramp was so important to Pops?

Son: Because he could drive his wheelchair.

Mom: And before the ramp? ... What did that mean for him?

Son: There was stairs... That was a bad thing because he fell.

Mom: How would you feel if you were Lou in this book?

Son: Me? I would feel happy and I would feel sad. Happy that I was written about in a story and sad because Pops fell.

Mom: What do you think the author and illustrator want to tell the audience about wheelchairs?...Walk or get around?

Son: They're very important because they help you to walk...Get around.

Mom: What would you say to Lou if you could meet him?

Son: If I met him when Pops fell, I would try to comfort him.

Mom: Would you want to spend a weekend with Granddad, Pops, and Lou? Why?

Son: Yeah. Because I want to! Building contraptions!

Mom: When is it a good time to read A Plan for Pops?

Son: When I'm problem solving.

Mom: Who else should read this book?

Son: Anyone else who likes to do problem solving!

Mom: And final question: What's the most important thing to know about A Plan for Pops?

Son: That it's a good book.

T added the umbrella to his drink after our
book photo shoot - he couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Nebula Secret Book Review

Book Review
The Nebula Secret (Explorer Academy #1)
Written by Trudi Trueit
Published August 28, 2018

Why I chose this book:
An adventure novel for middle grade students from National Geographic? I miss reading all my students' book selections, I want to expand my coverage on this blog, and I'm a big fan of National Geographic. How could I resist the offer of a review copy from a representative of National Geographic?


The Nebula Secret follows twelve-year-old Cruz as he enters his first year at the Explorer Academy. He is excited and nervous to train as an explorer; he will live on campus in Washington, D.C., and study a range of topics from anthropology to journalism to survival training. After several weeks, he is supposed to set sail with his classmates on the Orion, where they will spend at least a semester at sea. Of course, things do not go as expected — this is an adventure novel, after all.

Cool tech, close friendships, and a school bully punctuate this heart-pounding adventure-mystery. The twelve-year-olds are completely believable, and the sci-fi aspect is more "just around the corner" than fiction (the series is put out by National Geographic, so that's not surprising). The entire premise of an Academy that trains young explorers to understand the world, conserve resources and cultures, and inform the public is fascinating and appealing. I've no doubt that being accepted at the Academy would be a dream come true (I'm not sure if I'd have rather received my Hogwarts letter or my Explorer Academy letter). Back matter presents a "Truth behind the Fiction" section, introducing real explorers and explaining some of the inspiration for developments in the novel. And finally, Trudi Trueit's writing itself captivates, drawing one so fully into Cruz's first year that you'll feel like you're right there on his team the whole time (and that you hate Nebula with a passion).

Nebula is the mysterious and powerful villain out to get Cruz, though it's not initially clear why (it's related to his mother's medical research at the Academy). At first Cruz doesn't even know if Nebula is a person or a group or what (it's a pharmaceutical company). With help from a couple close classmates and his best friend back home in Hawaii, he is able to successfully navigate the first few weeks of the term. Just before he is to set sail, however, he is expelled and attacked. I will leave it at that, so as not to spoil the whole thing. But I will say that this is a top-notch middle-grade novel. If you know someone who is into exploring, cool advanced tech, and adventure stories — this is a stellar read! I am about to start the next book, which comes out later this month. You can expect a follow-up review soon.

I don't want T to grow up too fast, but this is totally one I'd want to read with him! And if this means anything to you, it reminds me of the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Racism and Intolerance Book Review

Book Review
Racism and Intolerance (Children in our World)
Written by Louise Spilsbury
Illustrated by Hanane Kai
Published in 2018

Why we chose this book:
We've been talking a lot about racism lately for two reasons, one of which is that we recently watched Disney's Peter Pan. I only remembered liking it as a kid; I sure didn't remember the "Indian Camp" and everything related to it in Neverland. I knew the racist stereotypes couldn't go unaddressed as we watched, and as I explained and talked to T, I knew I could use a little help in addressing such an important topic. B.E.S. Publishing provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review

In the same series as Refugees and Migrants, Racism and Intolerance presents a factual explanation of what racism and intolerance are, how they might arise, who helps in difficult situations, and how we can bridge the gap between ourselves and those whom we may consider to be "different." Appropriate to young children and grade-school children alike, the audience will learn that although groups of people may be treated negatively because of race or religion, this is never acceptable. More of an explanation of how racism plays out in different situations, and how it should be addressed, Racism and Intolerance urges readers to consider how they would feel if they were targeted. Children of different skin tones and children wearing various religious attire appear throughout the book, both as victims and allies.

Less is done to explain why people may be racist, which is the question that I have been struggling to answer for T. A section titled "What causes prejudice?" notes that "people can become prejudiced when one person from a group does something bad...they start to believe that everyone from that group is bad." Readers are reminded to respect different ways of life, even if they do not agree with them. I think overall this book can be a really helpful resource for addressing racism. I would have liked more content about why people may be racist and intolerant. I am still struggling to address the squirm-inducing caricatures of Native Americans in Peter Pan with T at the age of 4.

A useful tool that provides a springboard for worthwhile conversations, Racism and Intolerance, is appropriate to children, remaining realistic and ending on an encouraging note.

Son's Review
(Age: 4)

Mom: You and I have been talking about racism and intolerance a lot lately, and I had hoped that this book would help you understand. Was it helpful? What did you learn from the book?

Son: Helpful. Well, let me say. It is "don't be racism."

Mom: Well, we knew racism is wrong...

Son: It's not right to be racist. I want to tell you that.

Mom: That's right! What was helpful in this book?

Son: That it helped me learn about how President Trump treats people. Well I think it is not right to do bad things like President Trump does.

Mom: I agree. A lot of people agree. That's why people have been doing the marches I've been telling you about the marches, and the phone calls and emails to lawmakers.

Son: I'll show you my favorite page...

Mom: What did you like?

Son: I like that the police came, that they're telling the bad boy, "Be nice."

Mom: How did you feel reading this book?

Son: Like "this is not right."

Mom: How did you feel about seeing the same cat from Refugees and Migrants?

Son: Relieved because I thought that was the only one with the cat!

Mom: What is the most important thing to know about this book?

Son: That it's a good book. That it is not right to be unfair.

Mom: When is it a good time to read Racism and Intolerance?

Son: When I see people being bad, I'm gonna read them — I'm gonna show them the pictures in it.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

This Time Book Review

Book Review
This Time (Nadira Holden Book 1)
By Azaaa Davis
Published October 1, 2018

Why I chose this book:
A badass female demon hunter? Hell yes!
A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review

This Time begins with Nadira Holden regaining consciousness in a confined space, which turns out to be a coffin. She doesn't recall dying, and spends a terrifying few minutes using her superhuman, Child of Orion strength to claw and dig her way out. She makes her way back home, thinking someone has played a horrible prank on her, a demon fighter. When she arrives, she learns that 25 years have elapsed since her death, her father is missing, and demon fighters are illegal. Nadira struggles to accept the this truth; her reactions to challenges, obstacles, and personal crises are what I love about Azaaa Davis's writing. Believable, sometimes weak, but overall resilient, Nadira is portrayed as the type of woman one might aspire to be. Although she has been trained from a young age to vanquish demons and protect the human race, she is no machine: she balances her humanity, compassion, and duty in a way that makes her a compelling character that I want to read more about (when is that next book coming out?).

Without giving spoilers, I can tell you that some surprises await Nadria along the way. The biggest one I started to see coming, and was gratified that I was right. The foreshadowing was just enough for me to remain uncertain until that satisfying discovery. The plot was exciting and unpredictable, though never outlandish (given that we're talking about fighting demons, that is). It really is hard to not give away the ending or the most thrilling developments, but I can tell you that there are some crazy-awesome fight scenes, complicated demon interactions, and characters that I didn't want to stop reading about. I finished This Time in three nights — I didn't want to put it down, but T has been waking at 5, so I had no choice.

The world-building, the plot, the characters, the relationships — everything — is so thoroughly planned and skillfully executed that This Time is a compelling, fantastic urban fantasy.

Son's Review
(Age: 4)

Son: What's your book about?

Mom: See this lady on the cover? She's a demon hunter. She protects people.

Son: *grabs book and runs off, then comes back a few minutes later* Come see my setup!

T had opened The Storyteller of Damascus to his favorite page (the one with the demons) and stood up This Time so that Nadira and the demon were facing off!

Nanni's Hijab

Written by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq Illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanchai Published in 2018 Why we chose this book:  I came acros...